By Sam Piha
There is great agreement that social emotional learning skills are very beneficial in preparing youth for success. While we hear a lot about the “why” of SEL and character building, little is heard about the application (the “what” and “how”) within expanded learning (afterschool) programs. Expanded learning practices need to be uplifted so that the field can begin to see what good character/SEL practices look like.
We were interested in how programs promote these skills, so we put out an announcement asking afterschool programs to submit a program practice. We compiled these practices into a paper entitled, “Promising Activities, Practices and Resources: Promoting SEL and Character Skills in Expanded Learning Programs”. Each submission included a description of the submitting organization, a contact person within the organization, and a description of the practice or activity (i.e. purpose, time needed/frequency, target audience, and supporting resources).
The concept of social emotional learning has come to a frenzy in the past couple of years. Where does afterschool fit in to all of this? You would hope that we’d be right at the forefront. We’ve been doing this for years we know how to do it. – Karen Pittman, Forum for Youth Investment
Below are some practices that programs submitted:
EDUCARE- Guided Visualizations. Visualizations are guided around a particular theme. There are a variety of mindfulness and centering practices they enjoy using and have found valuable. An example theme: Gratefulness. Youth close their eyes and review on an imaginary movie screen, images of who and what they are grateful for or appreciate - friends, family members, their health, people who support or inspire them, opportunities they have at school or elsewhere, etc.
EVER FORWARD CLUB- Mask Making. Youth are given a handout and asked to follow 3 steps anonymously. They are also asked to keep their eyes on their own paper. 1. Draw a mask on the left side. 2. Write 3 words on the front of the mask that represent qualities they let people see. 3. Write 3 words on the back of the mask that represent the things they don’t usually let people see. Adult leaders collect the masks and then have a few volunteers read a few of the responses anonymously. Youth are then invited to share how it felt hearing about the front and back of the masks of their peers. This would be a good time to discuss their commonalities and differences. Deeper processes can be created depending on the level of safety that has been generated in the room.
LA’S BEST- Sanford Harmony Cards. These cards provide engaging questions and activities to explore with a "buddy". The students then get to know each other and connect, which prepares them to handle future challenges and conflicts and opportunities to collaborate in a meaningful and constructive way. Sanford Harmony also provides recommendations of how and why to pair students together. The "Meet Up" strategy provides a way to strengthen a program's daily routine by incorporating practices that allow the entire group of students to explore how they treat each other and how they communicate with one another.
CALSAC- Regular Check Ins. This is an intentional space created for staff and youth to share how they are showing up in that space. Participants typically sit or stand in a circle during the check in. Next, a volunteer is asked to start and then chooses a direction for participants to follow. The information shared allows everyone in the room to understand what may be going on for them and honor that each individual may be coming into the space with varying life experiences. This allows everyone to see each other more wholly and create safety for people to be authentic in the space. It is recommended to create an opportunity for everyone to lead the check-in. (From Temescal Associates: It is recommended that each speaker holds a talking piece, such as a feather or item chosen by the group. The talking piece is held by the person speaking and then passed around the circle. Those not holding the talking piece are engaged in active listening.)
GREATER GOOD SCIENCE CENTER- Gratitude Letter. In this activity, youth are guided to complete the Gratitude Letter practice, where they write a letter of thanks and then try to deliver it in person. To introduce the activity, the following script may be helpful: 'Most everyone enjoys thanks for a job well done or for a favor done for a friend, and most of us remember to say “thank you” to others. But sometimes our “thank you” is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless.' In this activity, you will have the opportunity to express your gratitude in a very thoughtful manner. Think of the people—parents, friends, coaches, teammates, and so on—who have been especially kind to you but whom you have never properly thanked. Choose one person you could meet individually for a face-to-face meeting in the next week. Your task is to write a gratitude letter (a letter of thanks) to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be specific about what he or she did that affected your life. It is important that you meet him or her in person. Don’t tell this person, however, about the purpose of this meeting. This activity is much more fun when it is a surprise to the person you are thanking.
By Sam Piha
We can't stop educating the public and policy makers on the value of afterschool.
SAVE OUR NON-PROFITS: Congress has ignored the non-profit sector as they consider the COVID-19 Stimulus Package. Read more.
FEDERAL FUNDING FOR AFTERSCHOOL: Once again, the current Presidential administration is proposing a federal budget calling for the elimination of funds for afterschool and summer learning programs for 1.7 million young people. Policymakers in the House and Senate have the power to decide whether local afterschool and summer learning programs will receive the funds they need to remain open.
Tell your members of Congress to protect the programs America's children and families rely on, and invite a policy maker to visit an afterschool program. Also, participate in the next Lights On Afterschool event.
By Sam Piha
We began tracking the spread of the Coronavirus several weeks ago. After seeing discussions in educational literature we grew increasingly concerned about the implications for afterschool. We had an exchange with national afterschool advocates, and decided that we would wait for schools, districts and public health officials to share their thoughts. We chose to follow their lead because it is imperative that we all speak with consistency.
Nobody really knows how much the Coronavirus will spread in the U.S. Below are some thoughts and resources that may be useful for afterschool providers. Please note that new information and resources are appearing daily.
Know the Facts & Follow Developments: It is important that everyone understands the real facts about COVID-19, and not be influenced by rumors on the internet. It is also important that program staff are knowledgeable about prevention strategies which can be employed in the program. We recommend the following resources:
Coordination: For school-based afterschool programs, it is important to coordinate with schools and school districts on plans for responding to COVID-19. We recommend that program leaders are involved in these plans by meeting with principals and following developments on district websites. This includes any plans for school closures. Program leaders should also be aware of any efforts of the janitorial staff regarding cleaning and disinfecting the program space, especially those areas that are more likely to spread the virus.
For community-based afterschool programs, it is important for organizational leaders to ensure that staff are properly trained and informed, that the space is being cleaned properly, and they are in contact and coordinating with local health departments.
How to Talk With Kids: It is best when programs have a regularly scheduled “Check-in Circle” where participants can bring up things on their minds, such as a fear of the COVID-19 virus. If programs do not have a regular check-in, they can call a “circle meeting” to discuss.
First, it is important that the adult staff know the facts. It is good to answer any questions truthfully, while communicating reassurances that adults are doing everything to keep children safe. We suggest that adult staff need not to offer detailed information that goes beyond young people’s questions- especially for young children. Second, empower participants with strategies to prevent infection, like staying home when ill and washing hands frequently. It may be helpful to demonstrate effective hand washing (20 seconds or 2 verses of “Happy Birthday”) and include hand washing as part of the program, especially before snacks.
“Youth workers should bring up that there is currently a heightened awareness of the importance of good hygiene to support everyone's health. For example: ‘It's flu season, and cold season anyway, plus a new virus going around which has prompted health officials and doctors to ask people in communities to do better about keeping themselves and everyone else healthy. Your school and this program are each a community and we're making that effort here too.’ Then teach hygiene. Beyond that, my sense is that youth workers should only talk further about it in response to questions or concerns that kids raise.
Here is one useful resource- How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus. You may also find this comic book format useful.
Stigma/Bullying Reduction: It is important that afterschool staff take measures to ensure that youth do not stigmatize or bully other youth. COVID-19 is not a “Chinese” virus.
“I request your careful attention to recent challenges that have been reported in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19). There has been an increasing number of news reports regarding stereotyping, harassment, and bullying directed at persons perceived to be of Chinese American or, more generally, Asian descent.”- Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Kenneth L. Marcus
Communication With Parents: It is normal for parents to be concerned about the health of their children. Reassure parents that afterschool staff are well-informed and working closely with their host school. Similar to afterschool staff, it is important that parents have the right facts about the COVID-19 virus and that they and their child stay home if they feel ill. (For school-based afterschool programs, check with your school to see if they already have “communication with parents” literature.)
In communicating with parents, afterschool staff could say something like: “The coronavirus and issues surrounding it is in the news and on the minds of many; we are leaving it to parents and classroom teachers to address it in detail; as a community, our afterschool programs will take on the relevant health/hygiene aspects of the issue in an effort to raise students' awareness and provide training about staying healthy; youth workers are being informed and trained to respond to any questions or issues that the kids bring up; we will, of course, notify parents of any issues that arise that affect the health or social-emotional well-being of your individual child or the group.”-Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW
For more information on this topic, we recommend this resource- What Parents Need to Know About Coronavirus.
Afterschool Program Finances: Many afterschool programs receive payments based on average daily attendance. If attendance is down or schools are closed, how will this affect afterschool programs? Will they have to permanently shut down? Will staff have to be laid off? Ask funders (state, federal, city, or philanthropic) if there are provisions for this. For instance, in California, the Department of Education has a process by which programs can apply for Attendance Relief funding. Additionally, it is important that afterschool staff do not come to work if they feel ill. This works best if the provider organization provides staff with sick time benefits, which may have financial implications.
"I do think it reminds us that we should all stay home when sick, adults, kids etc – and that requires support financially; paid sick days for staff and paid sick days for parents/guardians to care for sick kids." – Jodi Grant, Afterschool Alliance
Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW is a family therapist, parent educator and consultant. In addition to her clinical practice, she has led workshops and seminars for public and private schools and childcare centers, medical centers, and private industry for over 30 years.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.